Samson: Shock Tactics - Album Of The Week Club review

The album Bruce Dickinson made before joining Iron Maiden, is Samson's Shock Tactics more than just an object of historical curiosity?

Samson - Shock Tactics cover art
(Image: © RCA)

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Samson: Shock Tactics

Samson: Shock Tactics cover art

(Image credit: RCA)

Riding With The Angels
Earth Mother
Nice Girl
Blood Lust
Go to Hell
Bright Lights
Once Bitten
Grime Crime
Communion

Paul Samson was the founder, guitarist and guiding light of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal act that bore his name. He sang lead vocals on Samson’s 1979 debut, Survivors, despite Bruce Bruce, aka future Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, appearing on its sleeve. 

Bruce debuted properly with the band on the following year’s Head On, a powerful album full of unusual rhythmic patterns and unconventional song structures, but although it was awarded five stars by Geoff Barton in Sounds the band’s fate had long since been sealed due to the signing of a restrictive management deal. 

A legal dispute with said company prevented the band from earning money for a year and delayed their next record, Shock Tactics, until the spring of 1981 – a lifetime at such a pivotal point in Samson’s career. That same summer, following triumph at the Reading Festival, Bruce was invited by Iron Maiden to replace Paul Di’Anno

“We had still believed that a hit single was all it would take for us to catch up with Maiden and Def Leppard,” Samson later said, the news of Dickinson’s exit a clear hammer blow. “They [Maiden] had their next two years mapped out, whereas we sometimes didn’t know what we’d be doing the following week."

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Other albums released in May 1981

  • Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports - Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports
  • Hard Promises - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar - Frank Zappa
  • Breaking All the Rules - Peter Frampton
  • East Side Story - Squeeze
  • Long Distance Voyager - The Moody Blues
  • Tinsel Town Rebellion - Frank Zappa
  • The Fox - Elton John
  • Anthem - Toyah
  • Hard 'N' Heavy - Anvil
  • Heaven Up Here - Echo & the Bunnymen
  • As Falls Wichita, so Falls Wichita Falls - Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays
  • Beyond the Valley of 1984 - The Plasmatics
  • Dedicated to Peter Kürten - Whitehouse
  • Magnetic Fields - Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Positive Touch - The Undertones
  • Wild Gift - X

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What they said...

"The best about Shock Tactics may be that it is such an improvement on Head On. In favour of the earlier recognisable bass, the guitar and vocals received tremendous improvement. The songs are catchier, pack more punch, and are better presented. Samson still didn’t become (and never became) anything near essential with this record, but it is a great hard rock album, once again made all the more interesting because Dickinson has his name on it." (Sputnik Music (opens in new tab))

"Opening track, Riding With The Angels, is the best thing they ever put out. The best thing about the next track, Earth Mother, is the sheer power of Bruce’s vocal. Nice Girl is a typical blues rock riff but with a very suspect lyric. Go To Hell is a fast shuffle and is ok. Communion could have been Bruce’s audition for Maiden, and I’m sure Steve Harris heard this and thought of the future." (The Grooveman's Collection (opens in new tab))

"Far from being a Bruce-based curiosity, guitarist Paul Samson, bassist Chris Aylmer and Thunderstick prove themselves a versatile powerhouse unit through Earth Mother’s melodic metal, bluesy rockers Go To Hell and Nice Girl, and Russ Ballard-penned single Riding With The Angels, the late Paul Samson’s solos an object lesson in playing for the song." (Record Collector (opens in new tab))

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What you said...

Gary Claydon: In among the mythology and the bullshit which has surrounded NWOBHM over the past four and a bit decades lie a few inescapable truths that are conveniently overlooked much of the time. Among these is the fact that of the many bands corralled under the NWOBHM banner, the majority didn't get very far simply because they weren't good enough. For every Maiden or Leppard or Saxon there were dozens of no-hopers and also-rans, no matter how misty-eyed we might get at the mention of the likes of Big Daisy or Phyne Thanquz. 

There are several reasons for this. Lack of quality or depth of material for one. Financial constraints another. Doesn't matter how good that self-funded single might have been, if it didn't stir some label action then there were few outfits who could afford to repeat the exercise, let alone shell out for a long-player. Then, of course, was the fact that, to be honest, many of those denizens of denim and leather weren't good enough musicians. There were plenty that were competent and certainly a smattering of hotshot guitar slingers but the one element that would undermine a lot of the bands was the lack of a decent vocalist. These were much thinner on the ground.

So where did Samson slot into the NWOBHM scene? Well, they predated it for one thing, their debut 7" being released in 1978 while their second single, Mr.Rock And Roll is considered by many to be one of the very first NWOBHM releases. They also had some heavyweight friends, literally so in the shape of the legendary John McCoy. This not only led to McCoy playing on and producing Samson's early releases but also to him bringing his mate Colin Towns along to play on their debut album and to the band scoring a couple of coveted support slots with Gillan. 

Then there was the Iron Maiden link. Like Maiden, Samson enjoyed the patronage of Neil Kay and some useful early press courtesy of Geoff Barton and Sounds. They also shared a few band members. Clive Burr left Samson to join Maiden and was replaced by one Barry Graham Purkiss who himself had previously enjoyed a brief stint with Maiden before assuming the nom de guerre Thunderstick. 

Meanwhile, Paul Bruce Dickinson left his band The Shots, turned into Bruce Bruce and took on vocal duties with Samson before later leaving them, changing identity to Bruce Dickinson and becoming, well, we all know where that story went. So Samson certainly didn't lack star quality, having an excellent guitarist & a front man who would become one of the greatest Heavy Metal vocalists of all time.

Before that though, Bruce made two albums with Paul Samson and Co., one being Shock Tactics. Released on the RCA label, it was the album that Samson hoped would cement their place in the NWOBHM pantheon. It didn't, of course, but it is a very decent effort.

Shock Tactics kicks off with a rollicking take on the Russ Ballard-penned Riding With The Angels, possibly Samson's best known track. It's an uncomplicated, enjoyable opener followed by the heavy-hitting Earth Mother. There are a couple of nifty if unremarkable rockers in Bright Lights'& 'Go To Hell while the album's tendency to ropey lyrics is highlighted in sleazy pair Nice Girl and Grime Crime. The best thing here though is the album closer Communion a brooding, slow-builder with an excellent Bruce vocal. 

The soon-to-be-Maiden-man is very much a work in progress on Shock Tactics, the air raid siren not yet at full pelt but he elevates much of the material. Not that he's alone. Band leader Paul Samson was an excellent guitarist but definitely more of a bluesy player. His work here is probably his most metallic-edged. The rhythm section of Mr T. Stick and Chris Aylmer ( who had been a roadie for the band in its early days and a guitarist in his own band, Maya, before he took on bass duties for Samson) are competent enough. 

I've never been convinced that Tony Platt's production got the best out of Shock Tactics. It's not bad as such, just a little lacking in 'oomph' for want of a better description. (Platt is another Maiden connection - he produced their Women In Uniform single).

Shock Tactics is Samson's best album in the eyes of many (myself included) but, interestingly, it sold less than its predecessor, Head On, and both Paul Samson and Thunderstick would later say they preferred the sophomore effort.

I went along to watch the first date of the supporting tour. By that time, they had a new guy beating the skins (Mel Gaynor, a better drummer than Thunderstick) but a clue to where the band were at was the venue for that gig, The Fforde Green, a pub in a less than salubrious area of Leeds. 

This was a well known venue and plenty of later to be famous names played there (as well as some no-longer famous ones) but, great as it was, this was a relatively small, proper spit'n'sawdust joint and the fact that Samson, despite having just released their third album, were still playing this type of venue said it all.

Gino Sigismondi: It's interesting to talk about these records retroactively. Since I'm American and was only nine years old in 1981, Samson was not on my pre-teen radar at all. So my introduction to Bruce Dickinson came during my metal-awakening summer of 1984 and Powerslave

Because I voraciously read everything I could get my hands on regarding my favourite bands, as far as I was concerned, Samson was just Bruce's band before Iron Maiden, and the drummer wore a silly mask. However, a used copy of Shock Tactics showed at my local record store a few months back, so I was pleased to see it selected here this month. 

Back to my point of looking at these things retroactively, it's hard to see this as anything but "the band Bruce was in before Iron Maiden" (and the less said about his "Bruce Bruce"moniker, the better...). 

So, is it cool? Yeah! Is it Number Of The Beast good? Not by a long shot - mostly due to several boogie rock tracks like Grime Grime and Nice Girl with cringeworthy lyrics, to boot. However, the darker vibe of Blood Lust and Once Bitten are metal to the core, and feature some of Bruce's wailing "air raid siren" notes we'd come to know and love just a few short months later. A solid metal record, but one that falls more into the "for collectors only" bin.

John Davidson: OK, so Bruce Dickinson's mighty larynx raises this from third rate to second Division. To be fair, there are some half decent licks and Thunderstick is a better drummer than the gimmicky headgear might suggest, but the album as a whole sounds very much like every other NWOBHM also ran.

A bit heavy, a bit raunchy and a bit of a plod. On top of that the lyrics are pretty awful - presumably Bruce got encouraged out of the awkward sexism when he joined Maiden. 5/10.

Mark Herrington: Having been brought up on 70s heavy rock I do sometimes struggle with some 80s Rock. Watching with dismay as great bands started fading in the early 80s/ late 70s – like Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Zeppelin. The NWOBHM was trumpeted as the next big thing, but for many like me, at the time it felt a bit underwhelming in comparison to what had come before. Less imaginative and progressive, and more riff driven. We had heard much better of this brand of Rock with the likes of Overkill , Let There Be Rock and Van Halen in the late 70’s. The advent of Metallica and Iron Maiden’s gradual improvement was more significant for me at the time.

The year this was released I bought Moving Pictures by Rush and Mob Rules by Black Sabbath, but wouldn’t have considered this .

So when I approach this sort of material, I have to pinch myself and remind myself that if I’d been born a decade later, this sort of stuff would probably have been my Metal of choice as a youngster.

So to the album. On first listen it’s fairly run-of-the-mill heavy rock that doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. The guitar work and Bruce’s vocals are the best thing about the whole thing, but don’t lift it above lots of other output from the time.

One or two good tracks, but a lot of run-of-the-mill, forgettable stuff. Very middling for my tastes, and that’s where my score will be.

Bill Griffin: This marks my first listen to Samson and I like it, musically at least. Dickinson's vocals are great. The lyrics may be pedestrian and cliched at times but I'm used to that, being a Deep Purple/Ian Gillan fan. I'm kind of surprised they were able to pull off such a cohesive effort with the constant lineup changes. That usually makes for a stiff recording.

Darren Burris: Sounds pretty good. Of course you know Bruce is gonna kick ass but that guitarist does a good job also. Solid effort. Not great but pretty damn good.=

Adam Ranger: A solid Album from the 80s NWOBHM era. Not essential perhaps, bit pedestrian at times, but generally a solid rock album. Bruce steals the show for the most part, sounding a bit Gillan-esque at times, especially on Go To Hell. Favourite track is actually Grime Crime. Not because of the vocals but because or the guitar groove. But Communion is a good obligatory ballad, Riding With The Angels and Nice Girls are worth a second listen too.

Brett Deighton: One of my favourite front men and yet, despite listening to all his solo stuff, I have never listened to Samson. After giving myself a couple of Will Smith style slaps, I set about rectifying that. 

To me, Bruce Dickinson is the star here. The opening song, Riding With The Angels had me interested and the following track, Earth Mother has a great riff and was one of my favourites on the album. The other track that might have rivalled it for me is Communion, with killer vocals from Bruce. 

The other songs aren’t as strong in my opinion, although Bruce is enough to lift some of them. Bright Lights springs to mind. What they would have given for a lyricist like Steve Harris, or some Smith/Murray guitar, but then wouldn’t most bands? Worthy of a listen and for me, Bruce pulls this up to a solid 7.

Greg Schwepe: Good introduction to this NWOBHM band as I had heard of Samson, knew Bruce Dickinson was in the band, but had never really heard any of their music. The only snippet I may have heard is when I saw 30 seconds of a live performance video while watching either some NWOBHM or Iron Maiden documentary.

So, let’s start off with the vocals. They are off the charts. Bruce Dickinson is in my top three metal vocalists (him, Dio, and Halford in no particular order!) list.

I had no issue with the songs, liked them all and found nothing I had to skip past. The closer, Communion was the only slowed down song on the album and was quite impressive. Other rocking standouts were Nice Girl, Go to Hell, and Grime Crime.

Overall, this is a decent, but not great album. It’s not like I will be favouriting all the Samson albums in my Spotify app. Not knowing really what to expect, this was a little more tame than what I expected. It is hard rocking, but since it gets lumped into the other NWOBHM bands I was totally expecting this to be a “Les Paul/Flying V/Explorer (choose your weapon) into a Marshall with the distortion cranked” fest. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it ended up sounding like “Iron Maiden Lite.”

We all know Bruce went on to bigger and better things. But this was a good place for him to be noticed. 7 out of 10.

Alex Hayes: Shock Tactics is the third studio album from Samson, and the second (and final) of that group's offerings to boast lead vocals from some bloke called Bruce Bruce. If it was a stick of rock, then it would have the initials NWOBHM proudly running through it. This is music very much resonant of a certain time and place.

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Eternal respect will always be dished out to this relatively brief, yet hugely influential, movement. It will forever bug me that I was too young to experience those days first hand. I was only six years old on the 15th of May 1981, the date Shock Tactics was first released. That's my loss, as 1980 alone saw the unveiling of so many classic albums that it could possibly rank as the finest 12 months in rock history.

So, to the album itself and, naturally, I'll be starting with none other than Mr. Dickinson himself. These early vocals of his, although obviously very strong, are still a little rough around the edges. They are actually very similar to the raspier style of singing that he would later return to in Iron Maiden, on the No Prayer For The Dying album. Fans of the more operatic Bruce Dickinson, and that struggled with No Prayer..., may also find listening to this rather hard work. Dickinson is younger here, and still a work in progress as a performer.

It's also a little jarring to hear the voice behind Hallowed Be Thy Name, Revelations and The Evil That Men Do spit out such banal and cliched lyrics here, especially on tracks like Nice Girl, Go To Hell and Grime Crime. That latter track is particularly hackneyed, and contains the following 'gems', ahem, 'The quickness of the hand deceived your thigh', and 'Never mind, I'll burn the sheets tomorrow'. Jesus H. Christ.

As for the rest of the album, well, like I mentioned earlier, it's very much in the spirit of the times, and I mean that in a positive way. Paul Samson was a terrific talent, and it turns out that the leather-masked legend that is Barry Purkis can keep a reasonable beat when required. Tracks like Riding With The Angels and Blood Lust still hold up well. The band admirably spread their wings on the epic-ish album closer Communion. It's a pretty atmospheric number, although it does come across as under rehearsed in places.

As enjoyable as Shock Tactics is, it's no Iron Maiden, Killers, Wheels Of Steel or Lightning To The Nations. At Reading '81, Rod Smallwood made Dickinson the offer of a lifetime which, thankfully for us all, the ambitious vocalist accepted. The saga of heavy metal would never be the same again and, sadly, Samson were then relegated to little more than a footnote in that tale. To describe Shock Tactics in terms relating to Dickinson-era Iron Maiden, I'd pitch it at somewhere between 22 Acacia Avenue and Bring Your Daughter... To The Slaughter. Only not as good.

Finally, I must mention Shock Tactics' 'enigmatic' cover. Here, we see the biblical Samson toppling a couple of statues of John Wayne for some reason, whilst a TV in the foreground displays some type of critter. Answers on a postcard please, and all that...

Mike Canoe: Fancy hearing Bruce Dickinson sing lyrics that would make both Nikki Sixx and Charlotte the Harlot blush? Then Samson's Shock Tactics is for you. Fortunately, if you are a fan of heavy but speedy riffs, thunderous drumming by the aptly named Thunderstick, and the already incredible vocals of Bruce (soon to be) Dickinson, Shock Tactics is for you too.

From this side of the Atlantic, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal seemed like a bit of a monolith, but I'm learning there were actually many different sounds from proto-thrash to re-doomed Black Sabbath riffs and more. Still, bands like Samson (and Saxon and Maiden, obviously) are what I think of as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal: High energy melodic metal with abundant riffs and great vocals.

Musically, the album doesn't disappoint. The band is in the pocket for the whole show with frequent brilliance by guitarist Paul Samson and Thunderstick's thundersticking. And, of course, there's the guy on vocals. It's hard not to hear the excellent Blood Lust as an audition tape of sorts. "I can sing like this and I can scream like this and I can howl like this..."

Even when selling puerile lyrics like Nice Girl or Go to Hell or Bright Lights or Grime Time, the band rocks with conviction. There really isn't a song I don't like here - if I tune out the lyrics on most of them. Then again, even Maiden started out with songs like Prowler and Charlotte the Harlot before becoming my go-to band for history and literature. It's possible Samson would have found a better lyrical groove with Dickinson too.

Ultimately, an enjoyable club pick and one of NWOBHM's lesser known treasures.

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Final Score: 5.78 (57 votes cast, total score 330)

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